Prose Meets Corrina from The Bechdel Test Fest
We’re incredibly pleased to interview someone who is making waves and doing great things with The Bechdel Test Fest, which she founded two years ago to perpetuate ‘The Rule,’ which she explains soon enough. Corrina Antrobus launched the Bechdel Test Fest in 2014, and has grown it into an award-nominated film festival that has been celebrated by The Guardian, The Independent and Little White Lies among others. Since embarking on The Bechdel Test Fest, she has written for publications including The F Word, Total Film and Sight & Sound magazine and has appeared on BBC Worldwide, BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme and London Live.
Film critic and freelance Movies editor for Virgin Movies, Corrina is the driving force of the all-year celebration of the Test showcasing films that not just pass the test but do so “with flying colours”.
P: Hi Corrina, can you please tell us all about the Bechdel Test Fest?
C: We are an ongoing celebration of positive female representation in film. We aim to screen films that pass the Bechdel Test, which is a simple rule to say if a film has two named women, who have a conversation with each other, about something other than a man. It’s very tongue in cheek but the fact that we struggle to get 50% pass rate within mainstream cinema tells a worrying story. The test is named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel who created ‘The Rule’ comic 30 years ago and has since inspired the test.
P: You’re the Founder and Director. What does that entail?
C: Basically, I run the show and call the shots! From the programming, marketing, funding applications, branding, editorial for the site and social media, hosting talks or presenting panels. It’s a lot of work, especially as I have a full time job, and would be impossible without the ever-evolving team of programmers, producers and volunteers.
P: On the site bechdeltest.com already 7 out of 19 films from 2016 don’t pass the very simple and, let’s face it, surprisingly low bar. Why are there still films written that DON’T pass the test?
C: To be clear, passing the test doesn’t mean it’s a feminist, or a good, film. Plenty of films fail yet succeed in presenting a genuine female story. Same way that some films that do pass can hardly pass as a dynamic portrayal of a woman. Porn, for instance, usually passes! The point is it creates conversation and that’s what we want to encourage — discussion over the representation of people, not always just women, on screen. But why are there so many that fail? Because there’s not enough women making films in mainstream cinema. Female-directed films have a much higher pass rate because we’re more realistic in our own portrayals.
P: What are your favourite test-passing films and books?
C: We recently screened Frances Ha, which has since made its way back on my favourites list. It chimed with the evolution of a female friendship and how certain rites of passage can decay the bond between friends. Also finally getting round to reading The Bell Jar which is sorrowful, luxurious and dark and I’m enjoying the very specific character focus on one girl’s charmed but turmoiled life.
P: What is it that inspires you to do what you do?
C: Annoyance! Everywhere I look I see amazing, inspiring women doing amazing, inspiring things or undergoing difficult, exasperating experiences. I want to see more of this portrayed and celebrated on screen. If we highlight stories that present women as more than what the media would like us to believe — i.e — a wife at the sink, a sex toy, ditsy best friend, ‘cougar’ (ugh) — the list goes on; then we can present a better understanding of the female experience thus giving us more respect and compassion in the real world.
P: It must be great that relatable women such as Emma Watson bring feminism to a new generation of girls AND boys. How do you feel when a Kardashian comes along and potentially unravels the good work?
C: Feminism has many shades. I’m sure she believes there’s an element of empowerment she gains from flaunting herself as such. It’s not the way I would choose to use my body but feel awkward saying she shouldn’t. Ok so it’s problematic — she’s inviting and encouraging people to drool over her body and doing little to prove she’s got much else going for her intellect. But maybe I’m wrong, I don’t watch the Kardashians…maybe they discuss quantum physics. But given the ‘success’ she’s had from her exploits, it’s not providing the best role model for women; but there will always be women who make a career from their looks. Point is we need a balance. We need to highlight the many, many women who prove you can be rich, powerful and influential with your clothes buttoned up and your head screwed on.
P: Which film or films have blown the test most out of the water the most in terms of passing it?
C: Ones that do so tend to have not only have women in front of the camera but behind. We screened Speed Sisters this year and it passed with flying colours. Director Amber Fayres pulled in an all-female crew to film an awesome doc on Palestine’s first all-female racing car team. We’re also screening Mustang at the BFI in May — a brilliant film nominated at this year’s Oscars about a group of orphan girls in Turkey who are raised to be married off, but their spirit and determination sees them write their own conclusions. Also Drop Dead Gorgeous — the 90s cult comedy classic we’re screening with LOCO Comedy Film fest on April 21. It’s a ridiculously hilarious mockumentary about pageant culture with an all-star cast including Brittany Murphy, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams in her first role. It’s going to be great! But those are just the ones we’ll been screening; there are LOADS. Promise. You’ve just got to go find them or keep an eye on what we’re screening next!
P: Are there any adaptations you have seen of books that far surpassed the Bechdel test, yet the film version failed it and why do you think that was?
C: I’ve not read the Big Short but apparently the book had a female character that what completely written out… I have to be honest, I spend more time watching films and reading books about watching films than reading novels sadly.
P: The test seems to be applied in literature also. Are things getting better with the written word, or has self-publishing undermined feminism through the ease that anyone can voice their opinions?
C: I wouldn’t really know how to answer this one properly (see above about reading) but all I can say is this though…there’s a refreshing wave of zines on the rise and we’re really excited to be launching our first one in May called Girls Gotta Eat. Film journalism and cinema commentary is another very male-dominated space so it’s really refreshing to see women take matters into their own hands by creating editorial outlets relevant to their gaze. I’m seeing more and more pop up online or via printed zines such as Cleo Journal and Filmme Fatales.
P: Is there one book or some books that you would recommend everybody should read before they die (for our ongoing Books Before You Die feature)?
C: Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin really gripped me and despite its bleak subject had such eloquence. I also loved Shriver’s Post Birthday World as a beautiful ‘what if’ story.
P: Have you read any of 50 Shades of Grey and what did you think? (I did [Prose Partner Paul], by the way, and I thought it was shocking. Truly shocking).
C: Not read the book. Have seen the film. Funnily enough was surprised at how much I *didn’t* hate it. It wasn’t great but I got a sense that in the end the Dakota Johnson’s character was eventually on a personal path of sexual discovery. I got a sense of blossoming within the final throws of the film. I know a lot of people would disagree, but I just wasn’t offended in the way others were. There are far more concerning films out there.
P: Do you have an unsung hero or heroine and why?
C: Anna Serner — the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute insisted on giving 50% of their funding pot to women and as a result, and in just three years, Sweden has had 43% female directors, 49% scriptwriters and 53% producers and a huge 69% of female creative take home awards at Swedish film ceremonies. That’s action and that’s progress.
P: Is there one quote that sums you up?
C: Well I know the one word: Busy!
P: You climb out of a time machine into a dystopian future with no books. What do you tell them?
C: Hey. Let’s build a library! They were all the rage back in the day. Hipsters will love ’em…
P: What do you make of the Trump rhetoric in the US and his attitude towards women?
C: Ha. The less column space that man gets the better. But in short — he scares the bejesus out of me.
P: Can you describe your ventures and what can we look forward to in the future?
C: Yep, plenty more screenings, talks and celebration of female talent. We have a screening of Mustang coming up at the BFI, we’ll be involved in the Shakespeare season at Curzon and have a really fun event coming up in September which I won’t divulge just yet, but dancing shoes will be necessary… More immediately we’ve got Drop Dead Gorgeous in 35mm at the Prince Charles Cinema on the 21stof April and we’re celebrating the work of writer Norah Ephron with a double bill of Heartburn and Julie and Julia at the Rio cinema in Dalston, and following it up with a supper club with food inspired by the film.
Ticket link: http://bechdeltestfest.com/2016/drop-dead-gorgeous-in-partnership-with-loco-film-fest/
P: Are there any events that you are particularly looking forward to?
C: All! We have such fun at our events despite all the hard work that goes into each one. Our Nora Ephron event at the Rio will be a little different and very special as we’re combining Nora’s love of food with a post screening supper and launching our first ever zine full of articles and illustrations written by some fantastic female contributors. Also — the Rio in Hackney is the first cinema I ever went to, so has a special place in my heart.
P: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you/your work/social media accounts?
C: Yes. We don’t just screen films! We want to continually highlight the good things going on for women in film. Our Twitter announces all the female-led movies being released each week and every Friday we do Our Girl Friday which celebrates the work of an inspiring woman in film.
We also encourage discussion and with every event we have an intro, panel discussion with directors, actors or film industry folk or host a good old chat with the audience. We want to create comfortable spaces for women to discuss, debate and celebrate cinema and get more women to put their hands up at Q&As — our opinions matter!
P: If anyone wants to get involved, how do they go about doing that?
C: Get in touch! We have a site, newsletter, social media — all the usual. We always like to hear from people! It’s encouraging.
P: Do you have any links to videos/organisations/pictures we can use?
C: Yes. See below.
So, listen to Corrina and go and check out all of the links below. Follow, like and watch. Thanks to Corrina for an excellent interview and I’m sure you’ll all be watching films differently from now on.
Our site: http://bechdeltestfest.com/
Our Twitter: https://twitter.com/BechdelTestFest